Early-Life Digital Media Experiences and Development of Atypical Sensory Processing.

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IMPORTANCE: Atypical sensory processing is challenging for children and families, yet there is limited understanding of its associated risk factors.

OBJECTIVE: To determine the association between early-life digital media exposure and sensory processing outcomes among toddlers.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This multicenter US study used data that were analyzed from the National Children's Study (NCS), a cohort study of environmental influences on child health and development, with enrollment from 2011 to 2014. Data analysis was performed in 2023. The study included children enrolled in the NCS at birth whose caregivers completed reports of digital media exposure and sensory processing.

EXPOSURES: Children's viewing of television or video at 12 months (yes or no), 18 months, and 24 months of age (hours per day).

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Sensory processing was reported at approximately 33 months of age on the Infant/Toddler Sensory Profile. Quadrant scores (low registration, sensation seeking, sensory sensitivity, and sensation avoiding) were categorized into groups representing typical, high, and low sensory-related behaviors, and multinomial regression analyses were performed.

RESULTS: A total of 1471 children (50% male) were included. Screen exposure at 12 months of age was associated with a 2-fold increased odds of being in the high category of low registration (odds ratio [OR], 2.05; 95% CI, 1.31-3.20), while the odds of being in the low category instead of the typical category decreased for sensation seeking (OR, 0.55; 95% CI, 0.35-0.87), sensation avoiding (OR, 0.69; 95% CI, 0.50-0.94), and low registration (OR, 0.64; 95% CI, 0.44-0.92). At 18 months of age, greater screen exposure was associated with increased risk of high sensation avoiding (OR, 1.23; 95% CI, 1.03-1.46) and low registration (OR, 1.23; 95% CI, 1.04-1.44). At 24 months of age, greater screen exposure was associated with increased risk of high sensation seeking (OR, 1.20; 95% CI, 1.02-1.42), sensory sensitivity (OR, 1.25; 95% CI, 1.05-1.49), and sensation avoiding (OR, 1.21; 95% CI, 1.03-1.42).

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: In this cohort study, early-life digital media exposure was associated with atypical sensory processing outcomes in multiple domains. These findings suggest that digital media exposure might be a potential risk factor for the development of atypical sensory profiles. Further research is needed to understand the relationship between screen time and specific sensory-related developmental and behavioral outcomes, and whether minimizing early-life exposure can improve subsequent sensory-related outcomes.

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JAMA Pediatr





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